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Grouseland, the William Henry Harrison House, was built between 1803 and 1804 to serve as the center of government for the Indiana Territory and also served as a place of diplomacy within the Northwest Territories. Built northeast of the territorial capital of Vincennes, a settlement established by French fur traders in 1732, the house was sited upon a knoll overlooking the Wabash River and once stood as the center of activity for the Harrison family upon their 300-acre estate. The property was encompassed by late-nineteenth-century development and is now located at the north corner of Park and Scott streets. The house was built in the Federal style, emulating in part that of Palladian houses then in vogue along the east coast of the United States.
Built at great expense by master builder William Lindsay, Grouseland is reported to have been the first brick structure erected within the Indiana Territory. While most of the building materials were locally sourced, many of the furnishings are said to have been imported from Europe, a testament to Harrison’s ambitions. The house was completed in 1804 and reportedly named by Harrison himself as a jest at the abundance of grouse in the area.
The main structure of the house is two stories high, and features both a basement and an attic. It contains 26 rooms in all, and is 75 feet in length by 60 feet in width. With the exception of the windows, doors, and staircases, almost all of the material used in the construction of the house was local and shaped by hand, giving it an emphatic sense of place The limestone foundation blocks were quarried near Fort Knox and the over 200,000 bricks used in the construction of the building were made from clay on a nearby farm. The structure’s massive wooden joists and studs were fastened together with hand-forged nails and thousands of wooden pegs. The mansion features oak staircases and 13 fireplaces with hand-carved Federal mantels.
On the left of the first-floor hallway stood Harrison’s drawing room and council chamber, the most significant space in the political epicenter, and to the right of the hall was the dining room, the epicenter of the social life within the Indiana Territory. In the council chamber Harrison held many meetings with Native American leaders and conducted much of his business as governor. Folklore alleges that many features common to Federal architecture of the period—including barred basement windows (to prevent the breaking of vulnerable and valuable glass) and false windows (to maintain Palladian symmetry) were designed as defenses against attacks by Native Americans. The house also features an attached wing and a half-story annex in the rear.
Grouseland was Harrison’s permanent residence until he left to take command of American forces in the Old Northwest during the War of 1812. After Harrison’s departure, Grouseland was temporarily occupied by Judge Benjamin Parke, who lived there until 1819. Harrison’s son, John Symmes Harrison, lived at the estate through the 1820s; he was the father of Benjamin Harrison, who became the 23rd President of the United States. By 1850, Grouseland had passed out of the hands of the Harrison family. During the 1850s the structure was used as a hotel, and from 1860 to 1909, the property was used as a private residence.
In 1909, the Vincennes Water Company purchased the property with the intent to raze it. The Francis Vigo Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), however, collected enough money to purchase and renovate Grouseland. The group opened Grouseland to the public as a historic house museum. Another major restoration project was undertaken at Grouseland in the late 1940s under the direction of Indianapolis architect Lee Burns. This project followed contemporary Colonial Revival ideas about “restoration,” including the creation of conjectural features. Though very few of the furnishings were owned by William Henry Harrison, most date from the period. The house exhibits multiple artifacts from the first modern presidential campaign (1840) and the Battle of Tippecanoe (1811), and the library houses a collection of volumes on the history of the county, some quite rare and valuable. In addition to the dining room and parlor on the first floor, there is a library and gift shop in the rear of the house. The property is now limited to a lot of approximately 218 feet in length and 156.5 feet in width.
Today Grouseland is still owned by the Francis Vigo Chapter and is overseen by the Grouseland Foundation, a volunteer board of directors composed of DAR and non-DAR members which manages the structure and programs. The main campus of Vincennes University is adjacent to the property, and other state historic buildings, such as the Territorial Capitol building, have been moved to a neighboring property.
Cauthorn, Henry S. History of the City of Vincennes, Indiana from 1702 to 1901. Terre Haute, IN: Moore and Langen Printing Company, 1901.
Cleaves, Freeman. Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time.New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1939.
Collins, Gail. William Henry Harrison. New York: Macmillan, 2012.
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